Low variability runoff inhibits coupling of climate, tectonics, and topography in the Greater Caucasus

Adam M. Forte, Joel S. Leonard, Matthew W. Rossi, Kelin X. Whipple, Arjun M. Heimsath, Lasha Sukhishvili, Tea Godoladze, Fakhraddin Kadirov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Hypothesized feedbacks between climate and tectonics are mediated by the relationship between topography and long-term erosion rates. While many studies show monotonic relationships between channel steepness and erosion rates, the degree of nonlinearity in this relationship varies by landscape. Mechanistically explaining controls on this relationship in natural settings is critical because highly nonlinear relationships imply low sensitivity between climate and tectonics. To this end, we present a coordinated analysis of cosmogenic 10Be concentrations in river sands paired with topographic, hydroclimatic, and tectonic data for the Greater Caucasus Mountains where topography is invariant along-strike despite large gradients in modern precipitation and convergence rates. We show that spatial patterns in erosion rates largely reflect regional tectonics with little sensitivity to mean precipitation or runoff. The nonlinearity in the erosion rate – steepness relationship may arise from very low runoff variability, which we attribute to the large contribution from snowmelt. Transitioning from rainfall- to snowmelt-driven runoff as mean elevation increases is common to many mid-latitude mountain ranges. The associated decrease in runoff variability may represent important, unrecognized dynamics inhibiting the sensitivity of tectonics to climate more broadly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number117525
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Apr 15 2022


  • Greater Caucasus
  • climate-tectonic interactions
  • erosion models
  • erosion rates
  • geomorphology
  • topography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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